My flight home wasn’t until 19:50 so I had most of the day in Nice to continue holidaying. The damp weather of the previous day still hung lightly in the air and I put up my umbrella when leaving the hotel to go out for some breakfast. Breakfast wasn’t included in my deal and the hotel – Best Western Plus Hotel Massena – offered me a reduced rate of €13 a day instead of €17 if I had it the 4 mornings. I said ‘yes’ on arrival but after one morning changed my mind. I don’t eat a lot first thing and although the buffet was fine, the breakfast room was far too busy and noisy for me to deal with first thing. I found the morning peace I sought in Pain e Cie by the Cours Saleya market again, as I’d done the day before. A simple and good Niçois breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, croissant and coffee for €7.50. The staff were friendly and the few people there were talking quietly and I could look out on the market. It was perfect. But I did notice everywhere that breakfast deals were round about the €10 mark, so the hotel’s wasn’t particularly expensive and if you eat a lot in the morning, you could certainly fill yourself up for the day on their buffet and it’s great value.
Outside I discovered that the Monday market is a flea market rather than a food market. There were lots of stalls and it was quite fun seeing them being set up.
I wandered down to the seafront through one of the arches leading off the market. It was grey still as I wandered to the eastern edge of the bay but pleasant to be out by the sea and with the promenade still relatively quiet in the early part of the day. I looked up at Tour Bellanda.
It was too early to take the lift (which opens at 9am) to the top but I’d walked up before so I started climbing the steps. It’s not really that far and in fact you can get higher for an even better view from another point. But it was fun to be up there when it was virtually empty.
Even with the dark clouds it offers a great view over Nice.
Just below a fishing boat was making it way in. Had it had a good catch? I wondered.
By late morning the sky was clearing to a gorgeous blue which was reflected in the water below. The sea here really is the most wonderful and extraordinary colour and you can easily see why artists like Matisse and Dufy fell in love with Nice.
I had to check out of my hotel by 12.00 so went back around 11.00 to do my final packing, pay the city tax, and store my suitcase in their storage room. Then I made my way back to the Old Town where I’d booked a table for lunch at La Merenda at 12.00. My friend Miriam had recommended the restaurant to me when I bumped into her a couple of weeks ago and told her I was going to Nice. She said she and her husband always head straight there. She said you couldn’t book but they must have changed their policy for when I passed it in the morning a note in the window said phone reservations only (I’d read they once didn’t even own a phone; they still don’t take card payment). They were opening up (they’re closed Saturday and Sunday) and I could see people inside getting everything ready for later so I stuck my head through the beaded curtain across the front door. The guy I spoke to hesitated when I asked if I could reserve a table for lunch but then offered one for 12 o’clock. When I said it was for just one, he asked if I’d mind sharing. No, that’s fine, I assured him. Miriam had told me there’s always a long queue so a table shared and certain for my last day was better than none at all, and at least he’d asked at the time of booking, which I appreciated. (In the end, I didn’t have to share and had the little table all to myself.)
La Merenda has an interesting history that explains its popularity. Owner/chef Dominique Le Stanc was once a 2 Michelin starred chef at the famous Negresco hotel on the Promenade des Anglais. He gave up the gastronomic high life to return to his love of cooking rather running a large prestigious kitchen. At La Merenda he prepares simple classic local dishes in a tiny open kitchen at the back of the small restaurant (officially 20 covers but they squeezed in a couple extra yesterday).
It really is remarkably tiny and simple; on entry more like a workman’s cafe but then you find there are thick linen napkins on the table adding just a little touch of luxury.
Everything was run with great efficiency but always a smile and friendliness. The restaurant filled up quickly and I hadn’t been there long before I saw lots of people being turned away. I heard some English voices in all the coming and going but in the main I was surrounded by French people, so the locals haven’t been pushed out by the tourists.
There’s just one blackboard which does the rounds, so I had to wait until it was my turn. Everything was explained to me. A lot of the dishes were full-on meat-heavy French classics: andouillette sausages (made from pork intestines – and really quite smelly!); Tête de Veau – (calf’s head); tripe (animal stomach lining). I was however very happy to choose a Daube de Boeuf à la Provençale et Panisse (€17). The starters were lighter and more vegetable based: stuffed courgette flowers; ratatouille; rocket with ricotta, figs and olives. I chose Tarte à la Tomate (€12).
This was so simple but absolutely delicious. The roasted tomatoes on top of a bread-like base were full of flavour; a little pistou (French version of pesto) and olives were strewn over it. Nearly always In Nice I was served little black taggiasca olives which I’ve enjoyed in Liguria in Italy. They are grown in this area too and are lovely olives.
I’d been having a modest small glass of wine with my lunches each day but as this was my last meal before the airport and a flight home, then I decided to have a glass of cool Provence rosé with my starter and a glass of local red with my beef (€6.50 a glass).
The daube was heavenly; the beef cooked so beautifully it fell apart. The taste of the thick gravy was rich and gorgeous and I liked the panisse chips with it, made from chickpea flour and much like the Sicilian street food panelle.
Well for a ‘last meal’ I had to have dessert too – or there was a cheese option. I was told the choices: chocolate mousse, a fresh peach dish … but I was tempted by the Tourte aux Blettes (€6), which I was told was a Niçois speciality – a sweet Swiss chard pie with raisins, pine nuts, apples and a little icing sugar sprinkled on top.
When I say ‘tempted’ it was more to be a bit adventurous and in the name of food research, to be honest. I was a little uncertain about Swiss chard as a dessert, even though I buy it and often cook it. And as for the pie, it was certainly different and while I didn’t actually dislike it, I couldn’t help wishing I’d gone for the less adventurous chocolate mousse instead.
I had an espresso (€2) to finish and I’d had some Evian (€3) with the meal. The total bill was €53.
It was a great ‘last meal’ though and a great place to eat. It was buzzing with happy diners. The tables were so close there was only about 6cm between each; tables had to be pulled out for anyone to get up. But the simple, slightly cramped surroundings took away none of the pleasure of the eating; of the watching M. Le Stanc just a few metres away in his little kitchen, cooking, supervising and arranging plates. The two waiting staff were rushed off their feet but always polite and helpful. For a bit of true Niçois cooking, it has to be a must if you’re in Nice.
Outside it was a bit grey again, a slightly chilly wind blew, but then the wind always gets up in the afternoon at the sea. I walked for a while as I’d a couple of hours to spare. I looked across the walls surrounding the Cours Saleya and could see the house where Matisse had lived, which I wrote about yesterday. Up at the viewpoint on Quai Rauba Capeu it was less grey than it had been in the morning and the sea, despite the clouds above, was a beautiful turquoise colour.
What a delight Nice is. It has so much to offer and I think is rather unique. Back home, I’m already thinking about when I can go back.
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